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New Reports Show White House Received but Failed to Heed Early Warnings on Katrina

by Pamela Leavey

The WaPo reports today that “48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm’s likely impact.” They knew — the Bush administration had more than adequate warning, they failed to act — they sat back and watched as Katrina unleashed “epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns.”

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House’s “situation room,” the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina’s size would “likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching” and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.

A second document — a computer slide presentation by the FEMA, also obtained by the WaPo, was prepared for an early morning meeting on Aug. 27 — two days before Katrina made landfall. That document compared “Katrina’s likely impact to that of “Hurricane Pam,” a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans.” The document warned that Katrina could be worse that the fictional Category 3 storm.

The hurricane’s Category 4 storm surge “could greatly overtop levees and protective systems” and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted “incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)” and the displacement of more than a million residents.

The NISAC analysis accurately predicted the collapse of floodwalls along New Orleans’s Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, an event that the report described as “the greatest concern.” The breach of two canal floodwalls near the lake was the key failure that left much of central New Orleans underwater and accounted for the bulk of Louisiana’s 1,100 Katrina-related deaths.

In a televised interview (Sept. 1 – ABC’s “Good Morning America) three days after Katrina hit, Bush told the American public that the seriousness of the storm and the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm.”

These newly released documents, totally contradict statements made by Bush and the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, after Katrina struck.

The reports were sent to the White House’s “situation room” around the same time that Max Mayfield, the head of the National Hurricane Center, began sounding the alarm on Katrina that was circulated around the blogosphere. The FEMA and NISAC reports actually provided far more extensive detail and covered a wide range of possible consequences — “from damaged ports and oil terminals to spikes in energy prices.”

The White House refused to comment yesterday on the reports. Instead they pushed the notion that Bush has repeatedly acknowledged his displeasure with preparations for Katrina. Too little, too late for all who lost their homes and their lives.

Joe Lieberman, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat, responded to the documents yesterday in a statement saying the Bush administration’s failure to fully heed the warnings “compounded the tragedy.”

Two to three days before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, it became clear that it would be the ‘Big One’ everyone has been talking about for years,” Lieberman said.

CNN reports more on reactions from Senators who “lambasted the Bush administration on Tuesday for failing to heed devastating predictions from a hurricane preparedness test that began a year before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is convening “new hearings today into the federal government’s performance during Katrina.”

It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs that the Bush administration, Homeland Security and FEMA sat by idly and watched this happen, with total forewarning and then bold-faced lied to the American public. It’s not incompetance, it’s willful neglect and worse.

3 Responses to “New Reports Show White House Received but Failed to Heed Early Warnings on Katrina”

  1. So Bush got warnings about Katrina which he ignored–just like he ignored the warnings before 9/11.

    I’m not surprised that Bush got such warnings. I recall a story on NPR which laid out the risks of the flooding which ultimately occured. I figure that if I had heard such warnings (despite being on vacation at the time and not following the media as much as usual) someone in the White House should have also been aware of all of this.

  2. Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. What more does it take for Americans to see that he does not have the ability to handle this awesome job. It’s one thing to make mistakes, but such huge mistakes where the world can obviously see there was inadequate pre-planning, post-planning, etc. On top of all that, why do we have to keep hearing things like “we did’nt anticipate this/something so catastrophic…” (9/11; Katrina; post take over of Baghdad) OR “we don’t know him” (Abramoff) OR “we have to do this to protect you” (eavesdropping; going to war in Iraq). In these and so many other instances, the truth is somehow left for us to find…often when it’s too late.
    No credibility = No leadership.

  3. It’s really become a worn out story with this crew. Grand scale ineptitude. Gross negligence. Massive cover-ups.

    This should be another offense in the Impeachment list.